1. Getting all that crap out of the attic.
Dragging boxes out of their non-holiday nursing home wasn’t such a big deal 20 years and 30 pounds ago. It wasn’t my favorite activity even then, but I could generally haul the goods in less than 15 minutes without breaking a sweat or requiring reconstructive surgery after the deed was done. Then again, those were my “salad” days (translation: broke-ass poor) and I had maybe three boxes of mostly handmade or handed-down yule-tidery.
Now? Good God.
Just opening the attic door and lowering the ancient ladder causes me to have a small anxiety attack, with whimpering and such. Then I have to rest halfway up that stupid ladder because I’m so out of shape that turning on a light switch wears me out. After the pit stop, I finally make it up to the last few rungs where I can begin the ritual of searching for the invisible hanging chain that is connected to the light that only gets turned on twice a year. (Four times if something dies up there and we notice an odd smell while watching Survivor.)
This quest for fire, with lots of Helen Keller arm waving, usually lasts at least 5 minutes, two minutes of which are spent recovering from rounds of nearly losing my balance and plummeting to my death. (And, of course, there’s no one down there to help break my fall. As soon as I utter the hellish words “It’s time to get the Christmas stuff out of the attic”, there’s an instantaneous mass exodus from the house, with relatives and friends and family pets fleeing for their lives, scampering to hide behind bushes and trees and startled neighbors, communicating via walkie-talkie until all agree that the risk of returning is minimal.)
It’s just me and the mice droppings. Alone again, naturally.
And when I finally locate the light chain, yanking on it with the exasperated fury of a Kardashian who doesn’t yet have her own designer cologne or country, casting a weak light on the contents of the Hell Above Our Heads? Boxes. Boxes from here to China in all directions. Towers of boxes. If you need to hide from the po-po, just head up here, and your story will someday appear on Unsolved Mysteries.
To be fair, most of this mess is my own doing. As some of you know, I have an obsession with setting out a Christmas Village every year. I’ve toned it down a bit for the past few years, but there was a long stretch where my madness for acquiring miniature real estate knew no boundaries, with me snapping up tiny houses with a feverish intensity that nearly, and should have, led to an intervention. Or an exorcism. Something.
But even though I acknowledge 97% of the responsibility for the fact that there isn’t a single inch of available floor space in the attic, it doesn’t mean I can’t fuss about it, so I do. (2 of the 712 boxes have things in them that are not mine, which therefore means that I am not alone in my transgressions and thusly everyone shares in the guilt, even the cats, who own nothing up here.)
I whine as I’m flat on my belly, my body contorted unnaturally as I stretch for a box of must-use ornaments that have been shoved into a far corner for some ungodly reason, a tiny space where even Jiminy Cricket wouldn’t be able to wear his top-hat, yet the box has been crammed in there somehow. I whine as I stumble-fall down the ladder under the weight of an enormous tub that has 50 rolls of after-Christmas bargain wrapping paper in it. I whine as I’m lying face-down on the couch hours later, my body wracked with spasming muscles that haven’t been used in 11 months, half-heartedly listening to the all-clear alert that has been sounded in the neighborhood so my family can return home.
2. That stupid wrapping paper in the stupid enormous tub.
We have three of those tubs. Well, at least three that I can identify in a police line-up. (Since I’ve pulled back on my Christmas Village display, from a time when I used to cover an entire 20×40 room down to just a subsection of that abused room, I don’t even use a big chunk of the boxed houses in the attic anymore. There are stacks of houses that haven’t even been inventoried in years. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me to walk (crawl?) around one of those stacks and discover Amelia Earhart and Jimmy Hoffa having tea.)
We have more wrapping paper than we could possibly use for the next 50 years. We could wrap a fleet of Buicks in foil paper and not even make a dent in the stock. And I’m not talking about the pointless rolls of paper, the kind where you can only wrap two CD’s and you’re already down to the cardboard tube. Nope, these are the industrial-size, where a single roll could repave all the streets in my neighborhood and you’d still have enough left over to papier-mâché the Statue of Liberty. Big. Ass. Rolls.
How did this happen, you ask? Well, there’s a two-fold answer. Exhibit A is the fact that I lose control when they first introduce the new wrapping-paper designs each holiday season. I’m fully aware that we already have enough wrapping paper that activists concerned about the Brazilian rainforest have started an online petition to have me placed in lock-up for the last three months of each year.
But I still can’t help myself. When I see the shiny new patterns and designs, there are always several that I must have, even if somebody has to get hurt in the process. So I snag the ones I want and throw them into the shopping cart, next to the suntan lotion, because the start of the retail Christmas season has officially been moved to Independence Day. Then I lug my purchases home and throw them in a tub and no one ever sees them again. Except possibly Amelia and Jimmy.
Exhibit B has two perpetrators, myself and my partner. (He’s very wise with his money, never paying full price for anything unless a court order is involved, so he can easily resist the pre-Christmas temptation of paying 86 dollars for two designer sheets of wrapping paper.) But once Santa has gone back to the North Pole where he can live with hundreds of small boys and no one asks questions about it? Well, we’re both on the post-sales like crack-heads in the flour aisle at Piggly Wiggly.
How can you NOT buy something when it’s super cheap and you might possibly use it before the end of the century? That’s just un-American. When a roll of paper the size of a cheddar wheel has been slashed to fifty cents, that puppy is going in the basket, even if the design printed on the paper is a little questionable and may or may not involve deer engaging in mildly pornographic activities.
Moral of the story? We never use most of that discount paper. A few rolls, yes, on gifts for those relatives where you are obligated to get them a little something but you really don’t care for them and your heart isn’t in it. (Don’t lie, we all have those kinfolk.) So you end up shoving their present to the back of the tree in that mystery zone where you eventually always find that one present that no one claims to have wrapped, with a name tag of somebody you don’t know. (“Aunt Charlene? Who the hell is Aunt Charlene? Anybody?”)
3. The Tree of Pain
There was a time when I was equally divided between having a “live” Christmas tree and an artificial one. Live trees are pretty swell, I love the smell of them and the uniqueness of each tree. Downside? The damn needles that fall off constantly, of course, ending up from one end of the house to the other, aided and abetted by pets who are religiously convinced that these needles must be shared with the world and the bare feet that walk upon it.
Oh, and we mustn’t forget the watering angle. This is not a particularly taxing aspect of live-tree nurturing, but a healthy tree can suck up gallons of liquid before it realizes that its days are numbered, and it can be quite easy to forget to keep an eye on the bucket of nourishment nestled under the tree. And when you do forget, two horrid things happen: One, the tree can become so dried out that someone lighting a cigarette at the convenience store two blocks over can inadvertently cause your house to burn down. And two, those damn needles are no longer pliant and less able to pierce the skin. They are now hardened spikes that qualify for regulation by government authorities.
Now, a fake tree is no walk in the park, by any means. First off, there’s the misconception about the box that it comes in. That box is only adequate storage for the tree parts for a very limited amount of time, namely the duration of the trip from the store where you bought it to your house. Once you slice the binding tape on said box, the Christmas music playing in the background should change to the soundtrack from The Exorcist.
Because that tree is never going to fit in that box again. Ever.
Try as you might, it’s just not going to happen. Sure, the first year, you might get most of the parts back into the original receptacle. You’ll sweat your ass off doing so, but the tree has not yet learned that you are its bitch and is still mostly cooperative.
Within two years you can only get half of the tree parts in the box. Within four, the whole process is pointless. The box now has the consistency of wet toilet paper, ripping apart if you breathe on it, and the only thing that fits in the box is the tree stand, and that thing has lost a critical turn screw. (The cat denies involvement, but you know that Fluffy has lied in the past during interrogations.) You might as well throw the stand away. Or at least into the stack of older, rusty stands that have also disappointed their parents.
The turning point for me? The invention of the pre-lit artificial tree.
This was a sign that there is a god of some kind, a caring god, one that does not want his/her children to suffer through the mind-wrecking ordeal of stringing lights on a Christmas tree, a horrendous task that the World Health Organization should ban, based on the number of divorces and voluntary commitments to insane asylums that have resulted from a burnt-out bulb that cannot be found.
So it’s been pre-lits for me ever since. First, you simply connect the various parts of the tree together (using the instruction manual, written by someone making two cents an hour and who really doesn’t know any English other than “Lady Gaga”). Then you connect the various electrical plugs (which can be a bit tricky, since you will initially encounter more female plugs than male plugs, something that historically only happens on the island of Lesbos or at the Dinah Shore Invitational, but keep at it and things will balance out). Finally, you shove the main plug into a socket that hopefully has the blessing of the local chapter of the IBEW.
Et voila! Pretty lights without the need for attorneys and restraining orders.
Now, the pre-lit does not get my full love and support. It’s still an artificial tree, and as such, it is subject to the new tree-fabrication technology that allows these things to be manufactured in a manner where the various branches have been so tightly wound together that it looks like a small shrub on the conveyor belt in the originating factory, one located in a country that does not recognize things like a minimum wage that actually means anything.
This production process allows the tree to be nestled in a box that you will never use again. It also means that you must now “fluff” the tree, once it has been released in your home.
Fluffing = misery. It takes forever to pry the little branch-lets away from the main branch. And you can’t screw around with this prying. You have to shape and mold each little tendril or your tree will look like road-kill. This means that, even though you got the Express Pass with the “not having to string lights” angle, you must still spend a considerable amount of time with the fluffing. Hours and hours. Long enough that by the time you are finished, everyone else has gone to bed.
Except the cat. The cat who has been eyeing your handiwork for most of the evening, waiting for that sublime moment when you quit jacking with the tree and walk away in defeat, seeking counseling and hopefully prescription tranquilizers. Once you leave the room, the cat will leap on the tree, claw its way to the top, chew off the top third of the tree, and then knock the rest of it over for you to find in the morning when all you really wanted to find was a bagel and some coffee….
Click here to read the next installment in this series.
Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 11/30/12 and “Bonnywood Manor” on 12/18/15. Minor adjustments made, most of them involving my ongoing quest to curtail my fetish for run-on sentences. (Why do I sometimes think it’s okay to have one sentence commandeer half the page? What is wrong with me?) Story behind the photo: A snap of just one section of my Christmas Village, during the halcyon days when I went all out…